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Video: Developing Rogue Legacy on a budget
June 6, 2014 | By Staff

June 6, 2014 | By Staff
More: Console/PC, Design, Video, Vault

"We're always on the lookout for solutions that are cheap, fast, and reusable."
- Cellar Door Games co-founder Kenny Lee succintly sums up the studio's drive to build games that are "good, but not perfect" using inexpensive tools and techniques.

Brothers Kenny and Teddy Lee know what it takes to make good games on the cheap -- they spent just under $15k to build their critically acclaimed "roguelite" title Rogue Legacy, in large part because of their unique budget-minded approach to design.

The brothers shed some light on their development process during a recent Rogue Legacy design postmortem delivered during the Independent Games Summit at GDC 2014. It's a good talk that sheds light on the different stages of Rogue Legacy's development, the obstacles their studio Cellar Door faced in the wake of the game's release, and the creative freedom they found by focusing on making games that are good -- but not necessarily perfect.

We've taken the liberty of embedding the video recording of their "Rogue Legacy Design Postmortem: Budget Development" talk above, but you can also watch it for free here on the GDC Vault.

About the GDC Vault

In addition to this presentation, the GDC Vault offers numerous other free videos, audio recordings, and slides from many of the recent Game Developers Conference events, and the service offers even more members-only content for GDC Vault subscribers.

Those who purchased All Access passes to recent events like GDC, GDC Europe, and GDC Next already have full access to GDC Vault, and interested parties can apply for the individual subscription via a GDC Vault subscription page. Group subscriptions are also available: game-related schools and development studios who sign up for GDC Vault Studio Subscriptions can receive access for their entire office or company by contacting staff via the GDC Vault group subscription page. Finally, current subscribers with access issues can contact GDC Vault technical support.

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Sjors Jansen
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Great presentation thank you! And thank you GDC/Gamasutra folks for making it available.

It did make me wonder, with roughly $15000 spread over multiple people for 1.5 years, how they were able to pay rent, food and health insurance.. Does the budget include their own salaries..?

Terry Matthes
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Chris Melby
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I just figured they had $15k set aside to make this game and only paid others that they had to bring on -- on a per project basis? -- while minding that they didn't have a huge budget.

Or maybe they all lived in the same place, a relative's place? So rent was not really a factor, or it was low enough that they could afford it, food, and other basic expenses with in their means?

Or... more guesses on me part... ???

Teddy Lee
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15k was costs directly related to the game. It includes all of the payments we made for the contract workers (paid on an hourly basis), but doesn't include our own salary, since we weren't paying ourselves anything. If the game made no money, then we'd make $0. We also had no health insurance or anything.

We had extra money saved up for general living expenses like rent and food. But throwing all of that in makes things messy. People live in different areas, so costs will fluctuate accordingly. And yeah, for rent, we were living together, so that really saved us a lot of money.

One thing we didn't really talk about was the hours we pulled. I guess we took it for granted in the talk, but when everything but your own time costs money, you end up shouldering a lot of extra tasks. So we did our own marketing, PR, QA, CS, basic art, etc. This resulted in a lot of extra hours, especially near the end where we pulled multiple 120+ hour work weeks in succession.

Sjors Jansen
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Hi Teddy, thanks for the clarification. Very much appreciated! :)

It makes a lot of sense.
Over here in germany health insurance is mandatory for instance and is about $200-$400 a month depending on how much you earn.
It definitely becomes a very grey area if you also factor in normal work hours and overtime and make that part of the salary calculations as well.

But I think it's still important to mention the "hidden costs" imho, because it gives non developers the impression that people can have a very good game made by multiple developers for ~$15000 in 1,5 years.
Though I guess this was aimed purely at developers in the first place.

Ah well, thanks for a great game!